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Issue #55 /April 2013 



Staff 



EDITOR-IN-CHIEF 

Sunit Singh 

MANAGING EDITOR 

Nathan L. Smith 

EDITORS 

Corey Ansel 
Spencer A. Leonard 
Pac Pobric 
Laurie Rojas 
Josh Rome 
Bret Schneider 
James Vaughn 

COPY EDITORS 

Jacob Cayia 
Lucy Parker 
Emmanuel Tellez 

PROOF EDITOR 

Edward Remus 

DESIGNERS 

Brian Hioe 
Nathan L. Smith 

WEB EDITOR 

Ninad Pandit 



Statement of purpose 

Taking stock of the universe of positions and goals that 
constitutes leftist politics today, we are left with the 
disquieting suspicion that a deep commonality underlies 
the apparent variety: What exists today is built upon the 
desiccated remains of what was once possible. 

In order to make sense of the present, we find it 
necessary to disentangle the vast accumulation of posi- 
tions on the Left and to evaluate their saliency for the 
possible reconstitution of emancipatory politics in the 
present. Doing this implies a reconsideration of what is 
meant by the Left. 

Our task begins from what we see as the general 
disenchantment with the present state of progressive 
politics. We feel that this disenchantment cannot be cast 
off by sheer will, by simply "carrying on the fight," but 
must be addressed and itself made an object of critique. 
Thus we begin with what immediately confronts us. 

The Platypus Review is motivated by its sense that the 
Left is disoriented. We seek to be a forum among a va- 
riety of tendencies and approaches on the Left— not out 
of a concern with inclusion for its own sake, but rather 
to provoke disagreement and to open shared goals as 
sites of contestation. In this way, the recriminations and 
accusations arising from political disputes of the past 
may be harnessed to the project of clarifying the object 
of leftist critique. 

The Platypus Review hopes to create and sustain a 
space for interrogating and clarifying positions and orien- 
tations currently represented on the Left, a space in which 
questions may be raised and discussions pursued that 
would not otherwise take place. As long as submissions 
exhibit a genuine commitment to this project, all kinds of 
content will be considered for publication. 



The 




Platypus Review # 



Issue #55 I April 2013 



1 The 3 Rs: Reform, revolution, and "resistance" 

The problematic forms of "anti-capitalism" today 

Thomas Seibert, Norbert Trenkle, Daniel Loick, and Janine Wissler 



2 The anti-political party 

James Heartfield 



WWW: 

Radical interpretations of the present crisis 

HiLLeL Ticktin, Saul Newman, David Graeber, and James Woudhuysen 



Submission guidelines 

Articles will typically range in length from 750-4,500 
words, but longer pieces will be considered. Please send 
article submissions and inquiries about this project to: 
review_editorldplatypusl917.org. All submissions should 
conform to the Chicago Manual of Style. 



The Platypus Review is funded by: 

The University of Chicago Student Government 

Dalhousie Student Union 

Loyola University of Chicago 

School of the Art Institute of Chicago Student Government 

The New School 

New York University 

The Platypus Affiliated Society 



www. platypus! 91 7.org 



55 



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3 The Platypus Review 



I hG o KS, continued from page 1 

lonialism, anti-semitism, and many other process- 
es of marginalization, exploitation, and oppression 
all compose an ensemble of forms of domination. 
They are interrelated, of course, at times promot- 
ing each other, at other times opposing each other. 
However one can never deduce the temporal or 
logical priority of one of these elements. 

2. No division into "political politics" and "everyday 
politics": Reproductive and nurturing labor needs 
to be made visible and distributed fairly. Our daily 
lives are a terrain for political struggle. The private 
sphere is neither subordinated nor of secondary 
importance to political struggle. Demands for a 
just organization of housework and child-rearing, 
and for solidary care are not merely meant to pres- 
ent women or other excluded persons with equal 
access to the sphere of "real" politics; it's rather 
the other way round so that men and other privi- 
leged people are forced back into the sphere of 
"real" politics. 

3. No fear of your own success: Progress in the 
fight against a relation of domination is not invali- 
dated by the fact that it does not come about at the 
same time with success in the struggle against 

all forms of domination. The feminist revolution of 
1968 is not less revolutionary because capitalism 
was not abolished at the same time. That is not to 
say that our own success cannot be integrated and 
domesticated or that individual forms of libera- 
tion in the end cannot have an ambivalent or ironic 
outcome. Those who claim, however, that post-68 
forms of liberation have not really changed any- 
thing, or, even worse, have been the harbingers of 
post-Fordist or post-modern labor relations, mere- 
ly continue the privileging and prioritizing of trans- 
formations of a so-called "base." Those purporting 
the priority of some totality are really always only 
concerned with some part, namely the economy, 
and only a certain part of the economy. 

k. No "tabula rasa" and no catharsis: Since we 
face a multitude of relatively autonomous forms 
of domination that are not congruent with one 
another, it follows that the idea that one simple 
"rupture" will radically alter reality is unrealistic 
and misleading. There are always several fronts at 
which we need to fight, several alliances or enmi- 
ties. The term "revolution" either needs to be given 
up upon entirely or reformulated in such a way that 
it can include the heterogeneous temporalities of 
emancipatory movements. 

5. There are no longer any barricades: We must 
not conceive of all forms of domination in the same 
way that we conceive of capitalism. Some forms 

of domination constitute antagonistic oppositions; 
some are intimate and run through our own bod- 
ies (such as gender dualism). There are militants 
within bourgeois institutions and enemies in my 
bed. Some demands can be put into rights, others 
require changes of attitude; some struggles aim at 
changing a material regime, others at a cultural or 
symbolic one. Relations between parents and chil- 
dren are a relations of domination. But these rela- 
tions cannot be solved by the guillotine or through 
tax incentives that reduce them to problems of 
economics. Such issues can only be adequately 
resolved through the recognition of specific needs 
of the subaltern. 

6. Put an end to aniconism: We need to develop 
and establish new relationships in the here and 
now. These forms of how we want to live need to be 
tried, reflected upon, revised, and published. There 
is no reason why we need to wait for the day after 
the revolution. We can begin now. 

7. Occupy your life: What is truly exciting and en- 
couraging in global protest movements that we 
are currently witnessing is precisely that they take 
seriously the specific aesthetics of existence which 
rest in activism. It seems that, from the beginning 
of the Occupy movement, discussions about the 
organization of our everyday lives have played a 
major role; from the beginning the activists have 
not pushed aside the cultural dimension of protest, 
but rather affirmed it. In almost all documents 
from Occupy, the experience of living together col- 
lectively is emphasized, the experience of sleeping 
in tents, of debating, gathering, and the emotions 
and affects related to it. Occupy rejects the inter- 
pellation of a personified addressee or the fiction 
of a grand social subject. And as a side effect, Oc- 
cupy showed that activism need not be ascetic or 
sad, but that there is a lot to win even today, once 
we set up together a new and defiant life. 

Janine Wissler: Far from having reached a historical 
nadir, the contradictions today loom so large that, on 
the contrary, the Left and anti-capitalist politics should 
be able to relate much better to the social conscious- 
ness than was the case during Fordism. That is, in times 
of huge growth rates, when many parts of society could, 
in one way or another, get something out of the growth, 
when there was an actual improvement of the quality 
of life, the contradictions in the system are less obvi- 
ous. It seems obvious to many people that our current 
social and economic problems will never be solved if the 
prevailing power and property relations remain intact. 
The Occupy and Blockupy protests, the latter with about 
25,000 participants, are great developments. However, 
I also argue that, especially in Germany, social move- 
ments have had great difficulties gaining a foothold. 

I would follow Thomas's definition of the term "resis- 
tance." There are different forms of resistance, which 
can be concerned with single issues, can be long- 
lasting, can be very individualized, or can take place on 
a mass scale in the shape of social movements. It is the 
task of the Left therefore to endorse these kinds of re- 
sistance and to lead them in a way from the concrete to 
the universal. It should be made obvious that it doesn't 
make sense in the end to just fight the symptoms of 
a sick system. How can you put an entire system into 



question though? It doesn't work to merely win reforms 
and improvements step by step and then hope to arrive 
at a better society. Reforms can be taken back; indeed, 
the last few years in particular showed that advance- 
ments once gained can be taken back, so that the uni- 
versal does have its limitations. 

In the last few years and decades struggles for posi- 
tive reforms have not had priority, rather we have only 
witnessed defensive struggles, which were meant to 
impede political setbacks. There were no mass protests 
that raised demands which pointed beyond the status 
quo. We can see this in struggles within higher learn- 
ing or at workplaces. It seems that the fight for positive 
reforms has retreated into the defensive and the term 
"reform" has been perverted completely. If you think 
of reforms today, you think of deterioration, and not of 
anything positive. 

If we do talk of reform and revolution, however, re- 
formist parties should be criticized for never raising the 
issue of what stands in the way of social movements 
and for never properly addressing what keeps people 
from fighting for their interests together. The reason 
for this oversight is that the dominant principle within 
reformism is that you make policies for people, as their 
proxies. The idea seems totally lost that you can fight for 
self-emancipation, i.e. that people can engage in politics 
by fighting for their rights themselves, by making poli- 
cies on their own. 

I concur with the critique of economism. Neverthe- 
less, it is actually important to discuss how exploitative 
and oppressive regimes are interrelated, and how they 
condition one another. I also agree with the sentiment 
that the fights against racism and against the oppres- 
sion of women are independent struggles. It would, of 
course, be wrong to deduce everything out of the class 
struggle. We do need to consider where we can find 
correlations. I, for example, cannot imagine how women 
are supposed to be free in an unfree society and vice 
versa. That is why Daniel's arguments seem absolute. 
There are seemingly naturally objective reasons why it 
makes sense socially that women are not equal to men, 
but if you get rid of the economic reason, you erase the 
objective foundation of inequality. We need to reflect on 
how we can link the struggle for the equality of women 
with the fight for a better society. History has shown that 
it was precisely during times of revolutionary upheav- 
als that women were able to gain the most rights. Think 
only of 1918 when women gained the vote. Those were 
times when you had progressive developments and rev- 
olutionary situations all across society. Thus, we need 
to discuss those issues alongside one another without 
regressing back to the old debate around secondary 
contradictions, as such debates are harmful to the Left. 

TS: I feel thrown back into the old debates of the 70s. 
Back then, I always used to say the same things that 
Daniel said just now, and they were always the vantage 
point of my politics. But we are in the year 201 2 now; we 
have accumulated a lot of experience since the 70s. 

There was a time when politics was defined as what 
the party does against the state and capital, always 
under the leadership of men, and everything else re- 
mained part of the private sphere, at best a secondary 
contradiction, to be dealt with after the revolution. To 
counter this, the dualism of micro- and macro-politics 
was introduced, which defined the entire micropolitical 
field as an area of resistance. All the old questions re- 
main, though, and you're not an economist if you stress 
that. There are different forms of domination, and they 
all follow their own logic. Of course, capitalism is not 
the only system of domination. But it is an essential one 
(but certainly not the only one] that runs through all 
the other ones. If you deny this fact, only the left-liberal 
position remains, which at best aims at taming the an- 
archy of capitalism. 

Let me introduce the old, "evil" Leninist dualism of 
trade unionism versus politics. Trade unionism includes 
everything we accumulate spontaneously in our every- 
day lives, which is then articulated, e.g. in union de- 
mands. This was to be done away with and replaced by 
what the party dictated. Looked at from today's point of 
view, this is of course a flawed position. However, there 
is a moment contained in it in which we can rediscover 
our experiences of the last 30 years: The division into 
trade unionism versus politics also meant the division 
of those who could not see beyond their own interests, 
who could only focus on their specific grievances, and 
were unable to offer more resistance. Lenin coined the 
term economism for the labor movement of his time, 
but you can also speak of a trade unionism of women, 
the youth, the sick, and of ecologists— it is a real prob- 
lem that needs to be transcended. You need to move 
beyond this and constitute yourself as a political subject. 
I believe that those who set out to oppose the SDS have 
themselves been corrupted and gotten stuck in a spe- 
cific trade unionism of their own. That doesn't diminish 
their activities. Still, we need to ask how an entire gen- 
eration could become saturated with questions of better 
child daycare and changed gender relations, which have 
all changed so dramatically. And, once again, we need to 
re-pose the question of the political subject who arises 
to fight in the name of all. 

NT: Naturally I reject the accusation of economism. 
Driving this sort of attack is a truncated understanding 
of capitalism and its underlying features. It makes a 
difference whether I speak of a capitalist society whose 
basic process is the logic of the value form, or whether I 
say, "Everything is determined economically." Those are 
entirely different things. There is a historically specific 
character to this society which is comprised in this way 
of being constantly "driven," of this compulsion to con- 
stant acceleration, this necessity of always overthrowing 
everything, including the means of production, and pen- 
etrating all of society with capitalist relations. In no way 
is this merely an economic relationship, but relates to 
the most intimate human relationships, in other words, 
to the way in which people interact with one another. 
When we speak of subjects who understand themselves 
to be in constant competition and who have to act ac- 
cordingly, then we're speaking of human beings who 
are forced to objectify the world and themselves. We can 
observe this at its most obvious in the fact that I need to 
sell myself day after day as the commodity labor power. 
But things reach even farther: the need to objectify 



yourself and face the world as an objective process, i.e. 
facing something that is objectively alien to you— that's 
something specific to capitalism, and which penetrates 
all forms of domination that persist in it. In other words, 
it's not just about some sort of "economic process," but 
rather about something that preconditions all social 
relations, and is thus also not easily grasped as it oper- 
ates prior to everyday relations and actions. That's re- 
flected in the way people think about society. For exam- 
ple, the construction of a collective subject such as "the 
nation" is a form of metaphysics, i.e. when I identify with 
a meta-subject and I consequently submit myself to it. 
In this close way of looking at things we realize that it 
naturally does not have anything to do with economism 
but with the way I behave toward this society. 

The "perverseness" of the term "reform" that Janine 
talked about expresses itself in the fact that the his- 
torical process which expedited reforms and allowed 
greater latitude within bourgeois-capitalist society has 
exhausted itself. The shift of the dynamic of capitalist 
accumulation to the financial markets has taken place 
because it saw in this move a strategy to avoid this 
underlying crisis of capitalism for a few decades. Not 
only has the latitude been narrowed, but the balance of 
power has also shifted in a way such that what once was 
meant by reform, i.e. gaining social rights and leeway in 
labor relations, does not work anymore. That's what is 
meant when we talk of the "perverseness" of the term 
"reform." 

DL: I'll grant you this: I, too, support the abolition of 
capitalism. What I find problematic, however, is the de- 
duction of some kind of priority of the economic sphere 
before all other forms of domination, be they of a tem- 
poral or of a logical nature. The autonomy of struggles 
means that there are various autonomous, overlapping 
spheres that mutually influence one another, but there 
is just no prioritization. The belittlement of micropolitics 
overlooks the seriousness of those forms of domina- 
tion and how difficult it is to change things on a small 
scale. Have you ever tried changing yourself? This is the 
toughest thing of all! 

Foucault did not refuse to face the totality. He simply 
answered this challenge differently, by opposing the 
brand of Marxist thought that was dominant in the Com- 
munist Party of France, which took as its basic premise 
the category of the social totality. It was this that Fou- 
cault countered with the belief that micropolitics were 
heterogeneous and constituted local power relations 
which you have to resist locally as well as globally. 

There are two dangers for the Left: corruption and 
conformity. The institutionalization of the Left can cause 
it to lose and betray its own ideals. That is what it needs 
to look out for and develop mechanisms to counter. The 
second danger is that of conformity or Stalinism. This 
is what Foucault opposed. When Thomas says, even 
after all the experience of avant-garde politics, that 
we should strive to achieve socialism "by any means 
necessary," my alarm rings! The concept of the political 
needs to be reflected on critically; the experiences of 
Stalinism as a temptation for the Left demands reflec- 
tion. We do definitely exclude some "means!" 

JW: I believe that even struggles for the most minor 
improvements, such as better child daycare, are abso- 
lutely legitimate and necessary. The question is rather 
whether we stop at those. 

In her essay "Reform or Revolution," Rosa Luxem- 
burg makes clear that she does not confront those 
matters as contradictions. On the contrary, in the fight 
for reforms we sow the seeds of a new society and the 
consciousness that this other society is possible, even 
though, to be sure, Luxemburg also explains how it does 
not suffice to only fight for reforms. Contemporary pow- 
er relations as well as property relations are intertwined 
and the Left cannot lead struggles based on a concep- 
tion of capitalism that detaches one from the other. 

Q&A 

What role do you ascribe to the political as a way to en- 
gage history, as a means to learn to understand things 
in a new way, such that the object of critique is itself 
changed and thus also our own understanding of this ob- 
ject of critique? 

TS: The political does have a dynamic of its own. You 
would be mistaken, though, to assume that the political 
process can put everything into a new direction without 
being embedded in the restraints demanded by politics. 
I think that the political process contains the unpredict- 
able, the non-deducible, the unexpected and surprising, 
sudden openings that no one is expecting. The politi- 
cal considerations of the comrades in Cairo only a few 
months or even a few weeks before the events in Tahrir 
Square took place within an entirely different horizon 
than after fall of the Mubarak. Everyone thought the 
Mubarak regime would last forever, that they would 
have to essentially adapt to this world dominated by 
Mubarak, and this was especially true for the left in 
Egypt. When the events in Tahrir Square unfolded, the 
Left, which until then still had been marginalized, was 
suddenly agitating in an entirely different context— this 
is the momentum of the political and it goes beyond 
mere "resistance." At the level of the relationship be- 
tween the micro- and the macro-political, the question 
arises, "What kind of rupture within your life exists once 
you decide to remain the political subject after having 
certain experiences?" If I take a historical look back at 
my own life I can definitely say that a giant part of my 
generation has been corrupted. 

NT: The Greens, like Die Linke or any other party that 
tries to change anything by engaging in the political 
process, face structural constraints. When you take the 
case of Die Linke joining in on austerity measures when 
they were in a coalition government in Berlin a few 
years ago it had to accept the budgetary logic of sustain- 
ing only that infrastructure which can also be paid for. 
This is what happens once you enter into politics. That 
way, I am already wrapped in all the constraints that 
define capitalist logic, and all of this is the case in a time 
in which I have less leeway politically because capital 
accumulation is faltering. Soon we are left with the so- 
called "pragmatists" who accept systemic constraints 
and execute them. That is how a political class emerges 
which is nothing more than an operative of this logic, 



which is to say, of the logic of financial feasibility and 
the fact that this money necessarily is taken from capi- 
talist accumulation. 

JW: Nevertheless, you do need to look at the social 
configuration of the Greens. They neglected the social 
question from the beginning. I agree that the Greens 
in a way are the expression of the demise of a move- 
ment, and that they conformed in face of institutional 
constraints to coalitions, parliaments, and governments 
by really believing they could change the system. The 
Greens were able to achieve much more and impact 
consciousness far more by means of extra-parliamen- 
tary activities than what they were able to accomplish 
during the years they were actually governing. Once 
the Greens entered into parliament, they accepted con- 
straints, budget consolidations, and the rollback of the 
welfare state, while appearing politically helpless. 

However, there are also important reasons why Die 
Linke exists as a parliamentary force, since in its ab- 
sence, the Right would be able to gain all the more at 
the polls. It would have been interesting to see what 
would have happened if SYRIZA had become the stron- 
gest party in Greece. You cannot explain SYRIZA's suc- 
cess at the polls without taking into consideration the 
mass movements of the last two years in which there 
have been 1 7 general strikes in Greece. It does make a 
difference whether you can count on mass movements 
as a government to get through reforms, or whether you 
can't, and in Greece, SYRIZA could have gone the road 
of accommodation in a coalition with PASOK. However, 
they could have also begun to fundamentally question 
things and dispossess the Greek ruling class, and this 
could have initiated an entirely new conversation in 
Europe on the fiscal compact and the so-called "rescue 
measures." 

TS: It was good that SYRIZA did not win the elections! 
They would likely have not survived a victory because 
they would have been faced with constraints early on. 
All leftist forms of politics— the new social movements 
and the old ones, social democracy, Marxism-Leninism, 
anarchism— are responsible for some parts of the his- 
torical failures of the Left; yet they also have elements 
that I wouldn't want to forgo. And then there is the pos- 
sibility that projects such as SYRIZA, which is something 
else entirely, can emerge. SYRIZA is a new constellation 
and its platform is of a leftist social democratic nature, 
in which post-Maoists, post-Trotskyites, anarchists, and 
upright left social-democrats can participate. This has 
never existed historically, and it's extraordinary, which 
is cause for optimistim. 

Shouldn't we ask, "What is to be done?" rather than argue 
over whether the Left was dead? Would this not be a way 
to address such issues more productively? Isn't the end 
of latitude within capitalism a chance to develop politics 
independent of it? 

NT: Indeed, I think that the term "reform" cannot be ap- 
plied, for instance, to the governments in Latin America. 
Chavez's regime does not achieve the political goals 
it sets for itself, and it is also, as is commonly known, 
pretty corrupt. What is much more interesting is the 
space it has opened up for social movements. On the 
political and institutional level, questions over how to fi- 
nance things will always come up. Such questions never 
arise on the level of grassroots politics. There you can 
say: We don't care how things will be financed. Instead, 
we just take the houses, the land, the resources and 
use it according to our needs. And we organize. I won- 
der what different sorts of latitude are opened up here. 
Can you still speak of politics in this case? At any rate, 
you definitely can't talk of reformist politics here— it is 
something totally new. 

JW: Look at the movements in the Arab world, the 
mass movements in southern Europe, and then look at 
what's happening in Germany with regard to the crisis. 
We are immediately faced with the problem that the 
economically strongest country in the Eurozone has a 
level of class struggle that is incredibly low. This natu- 
rally has something to do with the fact that the strategy 
to counter the crisis in Germany was entirely different 
than in southern Europe. Germany did the opposite of 
what is expected in the south. Here, we went the way of 
social partnership, which is part of the problem too: In 
Germany we have the fewest strike days, whereas our 
unions are the most powerful ones in Europe, and still 
wages are decreasing. But it should be Germany where 
protests and resistance against enforced austerity mea- 
sures and cutbacks are staged. What we are seeing now 
reminds me of the structural adjustment programs of 
the 1980s that occurred in the Third World, which, in the 
end, entirely disempower people. 

What s supposed to have changed so substantially such 
that there is no more leeway in capitalism, as Norbert 
claimed? And how have reforms become impossible? Isn't 
the logic of capital he talks of as old as capitalism is? 

NT: If we measure the growth of productivity in mate- 
rial goods, we have seen a four- to six-fold increase in 
the last 30 years, but under capitalist conditions people 
have become dispensable en masse. Due to this enor- 
mous increase in productivity the dynamic of accu- 
mulation, which pushes capitalism forward, has been 
undermined. That is why we have seen this shift to the 
financial markets. Capitalism today can only sustain 
itself by the accumulation of fictitious capital. That is 
the reason they say, "There is no alternative." Central 
banks have to pump money into the markets and states 
jump to the rescue when banks are threatened to col- 
lapse because this dynamic of fictitious capital needs 
to be sustained. And this is what is so dramatic about 
the changes that have been wrought since the 1960s 
and '70s. 

This dynamic of fictitious capital cannot be sustained 
forever. Yet every time the Left debates wealth, this 
debate takes place in the category of money, which is 
a key point and needs to be debated. Those so-called 
mandatory spending cuts result solely out of the neces- 
sity to sustain the accumulation of (fictitious] capital. 
However, capitalism increasingly uses up future value in 
the present to sustain production, and this is precisely 

"The 3 Rs " continues on page 4 



Issue #55 /April 2013 



I hG o KS, continued from page 3 

what has reached its limits. This is what presents itself 
symptomatically as the necessity to cut spending. Now 
is the historical moment in which we need to broach the 
issue of the kind of wealth we want. 

TS: Whether reformism is possible now or not cannot be 
derived out of any analysis of the momentum of capital, 
no matter how refined it is, since the fact that reform- 
ism was possible in the 20 th century was essentially the 
result of the October Revolution. Capital always resisted 
concessions, but the October Revolution terrified the 
bourgeoisie so much that they were suddenly willing to 
make concessions after all. 

What I would expect from a reformist project in the 
21 st century is that it would have to brace itself for the 
permanence of an autonomous contradiction from 
society and accept it as such. This would be a reinven- 
tion; it would be a project that tries to acknowledge the 
autonomy of the street and the autonomous self-orga- 
nization of people even in moments of conflict. For that 
you need a solidary communication of people from both 
camps— the moderate and the radical left. Never before 
was the dialogue between these camps led in such an 
open, multifaceted and solidary manner, and on such 
a long-term scale, as is the case today. There are radi- 
cally left organizations, such as the Interventionistische 
Linke, who still work on the problem of how to establish 
the autonomy of all, and if we succeed in establishing 
dialogue on a long-term basis, then we have a model for 
such a reformist project. 

What this can achieve, however, will depend on 
whether people will revolt, just as the October Revolu- 
tion was such a revolt, and opened up the possibility to 
spread— as it did, as a matter of fact— despite repeat- 
edly failing. The October Revolution inspired anticolo- 
nial movements that ultimately led to the collapse of 
colonialism. This was the essential reason why we had 
reforms in Central Europe. This presents an option for 
us to pursue. Otherwise I'd suggest we just retire for a 
while and think— for example, by reading Adorno. 

How important is Adorno s critique of the '68 generation s 
understanding of resistance and of their actionism ? Is it 
perhaps more topical today than it was in 1968? 

DL: This conflict took place in a situation in which all 
were partly wrong. On the one side you had students 
protesting at lectures and erring fundamentally in their 
assessment of Adorno and of the actions they took 
against the Institute for Social Research. It sucked just 
as much, though, that Adorno called the police. We can 
learn something of the relationship between intellectu- 
als and social movements: Both need to be part of a 
social transformation. For that you need space and time 
to think, and this is what Adorno was doing in the face of 
the pressures of the street. But of course he was wrong 
in his assessment of this movement. 



The anti-political party, continued from page 2 



However, I do think the accusation of pseudo-activity 
is wrong. What's the prefix "pseudo-" supposed to mean? 
You can explain it by a conception of society as a dominat- 
ing totality, so that nothing short of its complete abolition 
can be counted as "real" activism. Such a conception is 
wrong, and this is where Adorno erred. You have to give 
him credit, though, in that he himself never complied 
with this verdict. Adorno did involve himself in politics. 
Not only did he give lectures and write texts, but he also 
intervened just as much in practical politics, such as in 
his stances on pedagogy. This is a specific kind of politics, 
namely a reformist one. This is what Adorno pursued, 
while opposing an activist kind of politics. He did so for 
various reasons we can debate. We could ask whether he 
assessed the situation adequately; he said the time for 
this sort of activist politics was over and that we needed 
a different kind of politics. Here, too, I disagree with him. 
Nevertheless, Adorno had some important criticisms that 
I think are still valid. But the term "pseudo-activity" is 
unwarranted, and it's not helpful for today's struggles. 

TS: Although I appreciate Adorno, I thought his criticism 
of the student movement was mistaken then, and still 
is. He was incapable of accepting what was happening in 
front of his own eyes. On the subject of pseudo-activism: 
This aspect is the most important one when you evalu- 
ate the question of how to become a political subject! If 
things are the way they are, you need to take the right to 
hold off, instead of getting lost in pseudo-activism. My 
background is in the non-dogmatic, post-Leninist, half- 
Maoist left of the 1970s, and from a certain point onward 
I was surrounded by Greens and Autonomists. I allowed 
myself to withdraw from those discussions and to think, 
because I thought that which was being offered did not 
resonate with me for various reasons. However, when, 
in the early 1 990s, neo-Nazis set fires to several build- 
ings that housed asylum seekers, it became clear to me 
that I had spent enough time thinking and I needed to be 
active again. Thus, there are times of pseudo-activism, 
and it's part of being seriously political that one avoids 
simply becoming entangled in activism. Yet, if you back 
out completely, you stop being a political subject. 

JW: What's important is not whether we have argu- 
ments on the Left, but whether a concerted effort or 
praxis emanates out of such an argument, for it makes 
little sense to argue unproductively over things if we 
cannot reunite in the end. This is where we need to ask, 
"What is it that we can actually agree on now, and what 
is the task for the Left today?" IP 

Transcribed by Gregor Baszak, Markus Niedobitek, Nicolas 
Schliessler, Jerzy Sobotta. Translated by Gregor Baszak. 



Loach to fight against the Labour Party in the elections. 
Just as they had handed over political leadership to 
the Labour left in the 1980s, so too did they let the old 
Labour MP Galloway draw up the platform for Respect. 
There were two main platforms: the first was anti-war, 



of the International Socialists relates to the contempo- 
rary mood, but appealing to people on the basis of their 
contempt for politics, in the end, is bound to demoralize 
them, so that the rate of attrition among the members 
leaves the party running to stand still. IP 




1 . See Platypus Review 4 lApril 2008) and Platypus Review 53 
(February 20131. 



Stop the War protest in London, February, 2003. 

and for a domestic social program, RESPECT offered a 
revived platform of social welfare and nationalization 
drawn from the Labour manifestos of 1945 and 1983. 
RESPECT could rally disaffected Labour voters, and 
Galloway worked younger Muslims who were put off 
by the Iraq war. But it was not a stable coalition, and in 
Galloway, the SWP had created a monster whose ego 
could not be contained. Opportunistically, Lindsey Ger- 
man offered to downplay the SWP's policies on women's 
oppression, especially if these were going to jeopardize 
Galloway and Muslim voters. Still, Galloway refused 
to be a puppet of the SWP. The coalition split, with an 
exposed SWP obliged to stand its own "left list" to save 
face— but getting a desultory vote. 

What Cliff and the leadership of the organization that 
followed him could not understand was that they were 
not really seeing signs of an upturn, but following the 
symptoms of popular disaffection with politics. Often 
misunderstanding these symptoms of depoliticization 
and decay as positive features of a "new mood," the 
SWP could live off the growing disaffection, but at a high 
cost. Each successive attempt to kick the party into gear 
with yet another mobilization would lead to demoraliza- 
tion, and increasingly to factions and splits. These fac- 
tions would usually claim to be trying to go back to the 
roots of the International Socialists before it all went 
wrong— though they never could work out where it was 
that had gone wrong. What Birchall's book documents is 
that it is the IS tradition itself that is flawed; the current 
leadership has merely adapted to this flawed inheri- 
tance rather than questioning it. The anti-political bias 



1 . Tony Cliff, A World to Win (London: Bookmarks, 20001, 111, 
124. 

2. See for example Alex Callinicos, "Is Leninism Finished?," 
Socialist Review, January 2013. 

3. Borrowed from TN Vance in Michael Kidron, "Two Insights 
don't make a Theory," International Socialism, Series 1, No. 100 
(July 1977), <www.marxists.org/archive/kidron/works/1977/07/ 
insights. htm>. 

4. See Alex Callinicos, "Imperialism and the Global Economy," 
International Socialism Journal, 108 (October, 2005), <www.isj. 
org.uk/index.php4?id=140>. 

5. Alex Callinicos, "Politics or Abstract Propagandism," Interna- 
tional Socialism Journal Series 2, No. 11 (Winter 1981): 122. 

6. See also Cosmo Landesmann, Starstruck (London: Macmillan, 
20081,99-100. 

7. Martin Shaw, "The Making of A Party," Socialist Register 1 5 
(1978): 123. 

8. Michael Kidron, "For Every Prince There is a Princess," IS In- 
ternal Bulletin (March 1973), <www.marxists.org/archive/kidron/ 
works/1 973/03/yaffe.htm>. 

9. See Alex Callinicos, "Politics or Abstract Propagandism," 
International Socialism Series 2, 11 (Winter, 19811. Ian Birchall 
seconded the motion to expel Yaffe and his followers. 

10. See also Bob Cant, "A Grim Tale The I.S. Gay Group 1972-75," 
Gay Left, No. 3 (Autumn, 1976). 

1 1 . Even then the leaflet they put out made an issue out of Pow- 
ell's writing Greek Verse, as if to say that really he was upper 
class and probably a homosexual. 

12. cm, A World to Win, 193. 



FRIDAY, APRIL 5 






Fifth Annual International Convention of the 
Platypus Affiliated Society 



5-7 April 2013 

The School of the Art Institute 
Chicago, IL, USA 




UTOPIA.™ 
PROGRAM 



What possibilities remain for a Left whose 
goal is no longer Utopian, and whose path is 
no longer programmatically defined? 

convention2013.platypus1917.org 




:,■' 
:l % p 






15 



1 :00pm: Registration (1 12 S. Michigan Avenue, 1 s ' Floor, Lobby) 

2:00pm - 3:30pm: Different Perspectives on the Left 

1 . Internationalist Perspective (US) - Alan Milchman (Room TBD) 

2. Green Party (US) - Jack Ailey (Room TBD) 

3. New Compass and Demokratisk Alternativ (Norway) - Erik Eiglad (Room TBD] 

3:40pm - 5:10pm: Different Perspectives on the Left 

1 . Quebec solidaire (Canada) - Roger Rashi (Room TBD) 

2. Party for Socialism and Liberation (US) - John Beacham (Room TBD) 

3. EXIT (Germany) - Elmar Flatschart (Room TBD] 

Opening Plenary 

6:00pm - 8:00pm: The Left in Power? (36 S. Wabash Avenue, 1 st Floor) 
Eirik Eiglad (New Compass) 
Andreas Karitzis [SYRIZA] 
James Turley (Communist Party of Great Britain) 



SATURDAY, APRIL 6 

9:00am: Registration [112 S. Michigan Avenue, 1 st Floor, Lobby] 

10:00am - 11:30am: Different Perspectives on the Left (112 S. Michigan Avenue) 

1 . SYRIZA (Greece) - Andreas Karitzis (Room 908) 

2. International Marxist-Humanist Organization (US) - Peter Hudis and Marilyn Nissim-Sabat (Room 919) 

3. Endnotes (US/UK] (Room 920) 

11:40am - 1:10pm: Different Perspectives on the Left [112 S. Michigan Avenue) 

1 . Revolutionary Communist Party (US) [Room 908] 

2. International Marxist Tendency (Canada) - Noah Gataveckas (Room 919) 

3. Solidarity Halifax (Canada) - David Bush and Lesley Thompson (Room 920) 

Panels 

2:30pm -4:00pm: What is Imperialism? (What Now?) (112 S. Michigan Avenue, Room 908) 
Larry Everest (Revolutionary Communist Party) 
Joseph Green (Communist Voice) 
James Turley (Communist Party of Great Britain) 



"Program" and "utopia" have for well over a century now 
sat in uneasy tension within the politics of the Left, in 
tension both with each other and with themselves. Politi- 
cal programs tend to be presented in the sober light of 
practicability— straightforward, realistic, matter-of-fact. 
Social Utopias, by contrast, appear guite oppositely as 
the virtue of aspiring ambition— involved, unrealistic, ex- 
hilarating. Historically, then, the two would appear to be 
antithetical. In either case, one usually offers itself up as 
a corrective to the other: the programmatic as a harsh 
"reality check" to pipe-dream idealism; utopianism as an 
alternative to dreary, cynical Realpolitik. 

Today, however, it is unavoidable that both program and 
utopia are in profound crisis. For those Leftists who still 
hold out some hope for the possibility of extra-electoral 
politics, an impasse has arisen. Despite the effusive 
political outbursts of 2011-12 in the Arab Spring and 
#Occupy— with their emphasis on the identity of means 



and ends, anti-hierarchical modes of organization, and 
Utopian prefiguration— the Left still seems to have run 
aground. Traces may remain in the form of various 
issue-based affinity groups, but the more ambitious 
projects of achieving sweeping social transformation 
have been quietly put to rest, consoled with the mere 
memory of possibility. 

Meanwhile, longstanding Left organizations, having 
temporarily reverted to the usual waiting game of pa- 
tiently tailing popular discontents with the status quo 
until the masses finally come around and decide to 
"get with the program" (i.e., their program), have ex- 
perienced a crisis of their own: Slowly disintegrating, 
with occasional spectacular implosions, many of their 
dedicated cadre call it quits amid demoralization and 
recriminations. What possibilities might remain for a 
Left whose goal is no longer Utopian, and whose path is 
no longer programmatically defined? 



2:30pm -4:00pm: The Labor Left After Politics and After Utopia (112 S. Michigan Avenue, Room 920) 
Steven Ashby (University of Illinois at Chicago) 
Sam Gindin (Socialist Project) 
Andreas Karitzis [SYRIZA) 

4:15pm - 5:45pm: Capital, History and Environmental Politics (112 S. Michigan Avenue, Room 908) 
Eirik Eiglad (New Compass) 
Joseph Green (Communist Voice) 
Roger Rashi (Quebec solidaire) 

4:15pm - 5:45pm: Marx and "Wertkritik" (112 S. Michigan Avenue, Room 908) 
Elmar Flatschart (EXIT) 
Jamie Merchant (Permanent Crisis] 
Alan Milchman (Internationalist Perspective] 

Closing Plenary 

6:00pm -8:00pm: Program and Utopia (112 S. Michigan Avenue, 1 st Floor, Ballroom] 
Endnotes 

Stephen Eric Bronner (Rutgers University] 
Sam Gindin (Socialist Project] 
Roger Rashi (Quebec solidaire) 
Richard Rubin (Platypus Affiliated Society] 



Issue #55 /April 2013 2 



The anti-political party 



Book Review: Ian Birchall. Tony Cliff: A Marxist for His Time. London: Bookmarks, 2011. 



James Heartfield 




THE SOCIALIST WORKERS PARTY (SWP) is the largest 
political party left of the Labour Party, and has been 
active on the far left since 1977 and before that as the 
International Socialists since the 1960s. The party was 
led by Tony Cliff until his death thirteen years ago, and 
Ian Birchall, who has written this diligently researched 
memoir, is still a member since joining in the 1960s. 
Birchall's "warts-and-all" examination is motivated by 
a marked unhappiness about A World To Win, the auto- 
biography which Cliff apparently wrote based on recol- 
lection, without access to the relevant documentation. 
Cliff, Birchall remarks, was sometimes abrasive and 
"often underestimated the contributions of other com- 
rades" (ix, 543]. However, whatever its deficiencies, A 
World to Win narrates the story of the SWP pretty much 
as it appeared to Cliff, as one that was inseparable from 
his own life story. And as Cliff made clear, "there was 
no time in which militant workers were so open to us 
as in 1970-74," under the Conservative Prime Minister 
Edward Heath, "nor before and not since."' Yet if we take 
this claim seriously, no organization better embodies 
the failure of the British workers to take power than the 
Socialist Workers Party, which has endured for more 
than half a century, though not for the reasons that its 
leaders think. 2 Indeed, it might be argued that Cliff's 
real achievement was to found a movement that rode a 
wave of disaffection from mainstream politics, unbur- 
dened by too many dogmatic ideas. 

Birchall recounts that Tony Cliff joined the small 
Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist League in Pales- 
tine before coming to Britain after the Second World 
War. The movement he joined faced some big problems. 
First, like all far left groups, it was guilty by its associa- 
tion with the repressive dictatorship that Stalin had built 
in the USSR. Second, the Trotskyists were saddled with 
an analysis that the economic crisis would get much 
worse after the Second World War (the destruction of 
the war had laid the basis for a revival). Third, globally, 
the working classes were divided between the peoples of 
the developing world, who were denied their freedom by 
military imperialism, and those of the developed world, 
who tended to support reforms offered by the state. 

It was in this context that Cliff started to develop 
new theories to explain the new conditions in which 
the Left found itself, along with his early collabora- 
tors Mike Kidron and later Nigel Harris. He broke with 
orthodox Trotskyism to argue that the Soviet Union was 
not socialist, but actually capitalist, "state capitalist," 
only masquerading as socialist (anti-Stalinists like 
Max Schachtman and Raya Dunayevskaya drew similar 
conclusions, and later some Maoists argued the point). 
He also countered the prevailing claims of the Marx- 
ist left that the 1960s would be years of crisis, arguing 
that government spending on arms would boost the 
economy, what Cliff referred to as the "permanent 
arms economy." Lastly, against British comrades who 
believed in the importance of Lenin's argument about 
imperialism, Cliff held that it was not the highest stage 
beyond which capitalism could develop, but the "highest 
stage but one." Together, Cliff thought of the theories 
of "state capitalism," the "permanent arms economy," 
and the end of imperialism as a "troika" of intellectual 
achievements. 

Although Birchall does not acknowledge it, these 
were not really theories so much as an intellectual spin- 
ning of the facts, worked up to avoid specific problems. 
It was wise to say that the International Socialists did 
not want to make Britain into the Soviet Union, but 
bizarre to say that what was wrong with Stalinism was 
that it was capitalist, as if "capitalist" were a word that 
you applied to anything that you did not like. For as 
Kidron went on admit, the "state capitalist" "analysis 
was never a general theory," and the "permanent arms 
economy" was a piece of Keynesian thinking. 3 These 
"theories" saddled the group with false prognoses that 
had to be reversed later on. The spending on arms, 
which was credited with preserving capitalism, was 
later credited with precipitating a new crisis. And while 
the International Socialists thought that Lenin's theory 
of imperialism was superseded in the 1960s (just as the 
conflicts in Algeria, Vietnam, Northern Ireland, South 
Africa and elsewhere were mounting] the SWP later 
embraced the struggle against imperialism in 2003 
when it rallied to support for what the party called "the 
resistance" in Iraq and Afghanistan. 4 

None of this "theorization" was all that important to 
the growth of the International Socialists. But it shows 
that, from the outset, a convenient indifference to dog- 
matism sat well with the organization's pointedly anti- 
intellectual approach. What Birchall's portrayal inad- 



vertently illustrates is that rather than working through 
the difficult history of the Left, Cliff's approach was to 
travel light, jettisoning theories that did not seem to fit, 
making up new ones to fill the gaps. While the classical 
Marxist tradition held that the key question of socialist 
organization was class consciousness, Cliff dismissed it, 
thinking that most workers were already socialists and 
that their bigger problem was class confidence (282]. 
It is in this vein that Alex Callinicos, who inherited the 
mantle of chief theorist of the SWP, has argued it does 
not matter too much if workers "have reactionary ideas 
on questions such as race, the position of women and so 
on"— the key thing was that they build their confidence 
through struggle. 5 

Birchall owns up to a philistine side to Cliff's Party: 
"On occasion in the SWP there had been currents of 
workerism and anti-intellectualism, and Cliff himself 
had sometimes been guilty of encouraging them," 
(546)— but even that is to talk down the failing. Birchall 
documents that Cliff often told students, "Don't waste 
your time reading books!" And that even Callinicos 
was told not to bother pursuing a doctorate on Marx's 
Capital because Cliff had already settled issues of its 
interpretation (344). Cliff's anti-intellectualism was 
not so strange in the 1960s, when hippies painted 
Blake's saying, "The Tigers of Wrath are Wiser than 
the Horses of Instruction," on the walls of Notting Hill, 
and Jay Landesmann recommended the "university of 
life" above college brain-washing. While Landesmann 
boasted that his children got "the worst education 
money could buy," Birchall reveals that Cliff offered his 
daughter Anna £5 for every exam she failed (390). 6 

With its emphasis on activism, an iconoclastic view of 
received opinion, and an emphasis on change from the 
bottom up, the International Socialists caught the mood 
of the 1960s student revolt. Cliff's group recruited im- 
pressive young comrades in Paul Foot and Gus MacDon- 
ald in Glasgow, the polymath Peter Sedgwick and the 
brothers Christopher and Peter Hitchens at Oxford Uni- 
versity, the Women's Liberationists Irene Bruegel and 
Sheila Rowbotham, Eamon McCann of the Civil Rights 
Movement in Northern Ireland, the philosopher Alasdair 
Maclntyre, and the sociologists Laurie Taylor and Jock 
Young. 

In the early 1960s, when they were known as the 
Socialist Review Group, the International Socialists 
worked as "entryists" inside the Labour Party, lifted by 
the mood that ended the wasted years of Tory rule and 
swept Harold Wilson's modernising Labour Party into 
power. The grubbier compromises of Wilson's non-ideo- 
logical, managerial approach disappointed the idealism 
of those who had voted him in and the International 
Socialists drifted out of the Labour Party alongside 
them. While Wilson and his minister Barbara Castle 
were proposing an official incomes policy, Cliff caught 
the militant trade unionists' mood with a small, well- 
selling book, Incomes Policy, Legislation and the Shop 
Stewards (1966). Cliff's one tenacious view was that the 
International Socialists would stick close to whatever 
action there was and not let any dogma get in the way; 
unless they recruited a core of activists, he intuited, they 
would have no influence. Tellingly, the group ignored 
its own theoretical view that anti-imperialist struggles 
were irrelevant and threw itself into the militant student 
protests against the Vietnam War. 

Cliff sought to tighten up the IS group, which was 
hitherto quite loosely cobbled, through talks and ac- 
tions, a bit like an anarchist group. He had once set 
out Rosa Luxemburg's arguments in favor of working 
class spontaneity and the "mass strike" as the way to 
achieve power. But then he altered course, arguing for 
a "Leninist" party of "democratic centralism," press- 
ing the need for discipline in the IS. Birchall takes 
this intellectual turn seriously, although, to my mind, 
Lenin's name was invoked more as an incantation 
than with any real understanding. For, despite what 
Birchall assumes, it is debatable whether Luxemburg 
and Lenin held opposite opinions on the issue of party 
discipline. But the main innovation was that the new 
group would follow orders. Ted Crawford remembers 
that the leadership were trying to "hurry things up" 
and had adopted an attitude of "not in front of the chil- 
dren" (358]. Cliff, Kidron, Chris Harman, and Callinicos 
thought that the discussion of Marxist theory in the 
party's branches and discussion bulletins would put 
workers off the party. 7 They were particularly irritated 
when David Yaffe and others used Marx's theory of 
crisis to show that the state expenditure-led post-war 
growth had reached its limits. Kidron referred to this 
as an instance of "Talmudic" reasoning and he stuck to 
his Keynesian argument that arms spending would off- 
set the recession. 8 The critics who held that the party 
needed a better understanding of Labour's grip on the 
working class were denounced as "paleo-Marxists" 
and "Abstract Propagandists" and expelled, an episode 
that Birchall prefers to forget. 9 The lesson seemed to 
be that socialism had to be dumbed down to appeal to 
workers. 

The International Socialists' investment in student 
protests of the 1960s was thus followed by an involve- 
ment in the explosion of working class militancy in the 
seventies. Alive to the need to challenge the Communist 
Party's influence among trade union activists, espe- 
cially shop stewards, Cliff's student recruits sold the IS 
newspaper outside factories in order to meet workers. 
He held that the explosion of protest in France was the 
result of the "years of depoliticization" and "the deep 
alienation of workers from traditional organizations" 
like the official trade union movement and the socialist 
and communist parties (306). The International Social- 
ists thus challenged the mainstream left for influence 
just as rank and file militancy was on the rise and there- 
by transformed itself into a party. 



Hacking through the detail, Birchall does not make 
the point that between 1968 and 1974 the European 
working class was as close to power as it had been 
since 1919-23. Industrial militancy went off the chart. In 
Britain a panic-stricken ruling class attacked militants, 
sending them to prison (as with the building workers 
known as the Pentonville Five and then the Shrews- 
bury Two], drawing up ration books, putting rebellious 
industry onto a "three day week," waging clandestine 
guerrilla warfare in Italy and Belgium; in Northern Ire- 
land the troops were sent in as an army of occupation, 
setting up internment camps to suppress the rebellious 
civil rights protestors. There was no absence of working 
class confidence as voters backed the striking miners 
when Prime Minister Heath went to the country on the 
question of who governs. The failure of the revolution in 
Britain, though, was pointed. While the ruling class was 
preparing a clampdown, the working class teetered on 
the brink of challenging them, and then fell back, un- 
certain what to do. 

The Socialist Workers Party called for more strikes 
and more solidarity, but when an election was called, it 
lobbied workers to vote for Labour! When, in 1972, the 
question of state power was put most starkly in North- 
ern Ireland, the Socialist Worker supported the interven- 
tion of British troops. 

As is well known, the round of strikes went on, but 
at a high cost. In 1975 a conference document sounded 
a note of caution: "we overestimated the speed with 
which the economic crisis would drive workers to draw 
revolutionary political conclusions" (376), but of course 
there was no reason that workers would draw revolu- 
tionary conclusions if no political movement was mak- 
ing that case. The SWP's apolitical militancy just left all 
the political decisions in the hands of the Labour Party, 
who were waiting in the wings to take over when Heath's 
government lost control. Labour's plan to halt the cri- 
sis was a "Social Contract"— a government-brokered 
restraint on pay. Cliff drew up a new pamphlet, "Crisis: 



little more than divisive ideas, and could not understand 
the connection between nationally based reformism 
and the denial of rights to blacks. Racism, they thought, 
would fall away when workers united in struggle. When 
police's targeting of black youngsters provoked riots in 
Brixton in 1981, Socialist Worker insisted that the rioting 
had nothing to do with race, but rather a united black 
and white protest against unemployment. 

Where they did feel comfortable talking about race 
was in the movement against the far-right National 
Front (NF). The SWP attempted to connect the anti-rac- 
ist struggle against the NF with the popular anti-fascist 
mobilization against Germany in the Second World 
War. Racism was reduced to a question of fascists who 
were outside the realm of respectable opinion that the 
Anti-Nazi League would defend. It was a campaign that 
footballers and bishops could support because it cast 
the race problem as one of extremists who were alien to 
British society. 

In the eighties, the SWP survived by amplifying the 
"anti-Thatcher mood," joining protests and such strikes 
that were provoked by the employer's offensive. "There 
is real hatred for this Tory government," Cliff intuited, 
but "this hatred is accompanied by a very widespread 
impotence" (451 ). When left-wingers tried to take con- 
trol of the Labour Party, putting up Tony Benn for deputy 
leader, Cliff was skeptical not of the revival of state so- 
cialist policies but that this resolution-mongering would 
be a distraction from building in the workplace. Birchall 
tells the story as if the SWP had savagely criticized the 
Benn campaign, but at the time the headline of Socialist 
Worker was "Benn for Deputy." An entente or division of 
labor emerged where Benn and the other Labour Party 
leftists would outline the socialist policy at the podium 
(mostly about state control of industry), but the willing 
foot-soldiers of the SWP would prove their worth by 
organizing the grassroots support, whether gathering 
canvassers in elections or helping organize demonstra- 
tions and building support for strikes. 




After the arrest of five shop stewards [the "Pentonville Five") who disobeyed a court order to cease picketing, a series 
of strikes and protests swept Britain, culminating in the Trades Union Congress's call for a general strike in July, 1972. 



Social Contract or Socialism" (1975), but what it had to 
offer working class militants was more strife, but no 
way out, concluding: 

We are entering a long period of instability. Inter- 
national capitalism will be rent by economic, social 
and political crises. Big class battles are ahead of 
us. Their outcome will decide the future of human- 
ity for a long time to come. (375) 

Some of those who were tasked with building the new 
factory branches of the party in the early seventies, like 
Jim Higgins and Roger Rosewell, were burned out, and 
complained that the perspective was unrealistic. Birchall 
sums up the party's failure by blaming the other side: 

The hopes of the IS in the early 1 970s were not 
realised because the Labour government suc- 
ceeded in enforcing its Social Contract and large- 
scale industrial conflict virtually came to an end... 
reformism proved rather more resilient than had 
been expected. (405) 

That, of course, was precisely where the SWP had failed. 
It never sought to challenge the Labour Party for politi- 
cal leadership amongst the working class, choosing in- 
stead to build influence through trade union militancy. 

Struggling to explain the setback, Cliff developed 
what was called the theory of the "downturn," which 
was no theory as such. It was just an empirical state- 
ment of the decline in strike activity. Cliff's view of the 
working class was essentially sociological. They were 
defined by their relation to the means of production and 
they were more or less confident. Workers were orga- 
nized in trade unions committed to the state socialist 
policies of the Labour Party. Reformist socialism was 
the ideal around which the working class had formed 
itself. When that ideal proved to be a failure, the working 
class did not "draw revolutionary conclusions" because 
there had been no political struggle for such conclu- 
sions. Instead, the organized working class took the 
failures of socialism personally. Some were angry; many 
more were defensive, or altogether demoralized. Cliff's 
theory of the "downturn" only reflected the appearance 
of falling militancy, but left out the decisive factor, the 
absence of an alternative to Labour that might have 
become a focus for renewed struggle. 

The party's philistine outlook on questions of race 
and sex equality was at its strongest in the mid-1970s 
when there was a concerted push to win working class 
support. All social questions were reducible to the rela- 
tion of exploitation of the working class "at the point of 
production." The political realm was discounted as un- 
important, and the struggle for rights illusory. Women's 
liberation was treated as a secondary question, and the 
student milieu self-consciously adopted what they took 
to be working class attitudes towards women. The In- 
ternational Socialists' out-and-out hostility to gay rights 
went so far that a gay caucus organized by Don Milligan 
and Bob Cant was broken up (424, 440). 10 

So, too, did the organization struggle to understand 
the race question. The International Socialists had 
challenged racism among dockworkers in an infamous 
walkout in favor of the anti-immigrant cabinet minister 
Enoch Powell." Still the group thought of racism as 



The party's defensiveness was writ large when York- 
shire miners struck over a program of pit closures. The 
weakness of the strike was the division between the 
militant miners and the rest. Leftist hero of the 1974 
strike Arthur Scargill had been elected president of the 
union and was close to the militants, but feared that 
a national ballot would have been beaten. It was the 
militants' weakness that they sought to sidestep the 
rest of the membership by avoiding a ballot and instead 
picketing out the pits in support of those threatened 
with closure. From the outset "the strike was not solid," 
and many miners saw the lack of a ballot as a justifica- 
tion to work on. 12 Instead of challenging the evasion of 
the activists around Scargill and calling for an all-out 
campaign to win a national ballot, Cliff made a virtue 
of the strike's weakest point, and Socialist Worker de- 
nounced rank and file democracy as "ballot-itis" and 
a concession to Thatcherism. The ballot was not held; 
the miners stayed divided and lost. Yet more problem- 
atic was Scargill's nationalistic "Plan for Coal," which 
claimed that coal was profitable for British industry, 
as if miners' interests coincided with capitalist suc- 
cess—the SWP simply ignored the meaning of the Plan 
for Coal. Birchall makes the interesting point that Paul 
Foot talked strategy on the phone to Scargill throughout 
the strike [485]. Later Cliff dishonestly tried to shift the 
blame onto the miners' leader for the strike's failure, 
much to Foot's dismay, when every step Scargill took 
had been supported by the SWP. With the miners' de- 
feat, the "downturn" became a self-fulfilling prophecy. 
Blaming the working class was always easier than try- 
ing to understand that it was the Left that had failed. 

The SWP seemed set to fall into decline alongside the 
rest of the Left. On the other hand, the other rivals were 
falling by the wayside: the Communist Party was irrepa- 
rably wounded by the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 
Workers Revolutionary Party run into the ground by its 
hysterical leader (until a bankrupt leadership overthrew 
him by uncovering a sex-scandal); the Militant Tendency 
had been expelled from the Labour Party. In a very 
small pond, the SWP was the larger fish. 

In the last decade of his life, Cliff read the runes of 
the class struggle, detecting a "new mood" (504). Wait- 
ing for the upturn would become the party's business, 
and successive events were singled out as the turning 
point: the middle England protests against the closing of 
the last mines, the anti-capitalist protests in Seattle, or 
most recently the expected fight back against Tory cuts. 
At times popular disaffection would even lead to great 
carnivals of protest, like the anti-poll tax campaign that 
culminated in rioting in Trafalgar Square in 1 990. In 
2003, protests against the Iraq War grew massively as 
they too became a focus for popular disaffection with 
the political establishment led by Tony Blair in Britain, 
who led Labour's return to office after a 17-year hiatus. 
The SWP threw itself into those protests, seeing them 
as a return to mass opposition, but it did not understand 
that, despite appearances, the dominant sentiment was 
an anti-political mood of disengagement— pithily cap- 
tured by the inward-looking slogan "not in my name." 

On the back of the Gulf War protests, the SWP took 
its most ambitious move yet, founding the RESPECT 
coalition with George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob and Ken 

"The anti-political party" continues on page 4